“Now What?” political discussion gauges the climate of WSU Vancouver

Two efforts aimed at civil discourse on campus joined forces last month to take the temperature of local politics and grassroots organizing at Washington State University Vancouver. On Jan. 19, the Initiative for Public Deliberation (IPD) and the VanCoug American Democracy (ADP) sponsored “Now What?” a political discourse event that allowed students, faculty and community members to discuss the political climate of WSU Vancouver.

Individuals who attended were divided into groups to exchange ideas and opinions on particular issues or topics of interest relating to the WSU Vancouver community. The participants involved then came together to share results of the open dialogue, which reinforced the importance of civic engagement and inspired many participants to pursue it further.

“Now What?” was not like typical political discussion events in which a few select people get to discuss controversial topics to an assembled audience. The event was structured along the lines of a Socratic seminar. The content concerned contemporary and future possibilities for WSU Vancouver. Necessary ground rules promoted respectful speech, and active listening and acceptance towards disagreements set the tone of the event while simultaneously stirring excitement for those who came.

Under this modus operandi, participants broke into groups to respond to open-ended questions about how the university “SOARs,” an acronym for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results. Prompts asked individuals to share what they thought the university should build upon, best future possibilities and what more they want from the school. After careful deliberation, attendees met the goal of the event by becoming better equipped to inspire civic conversation with others.

“We should all have a stake in what goes on here at WSU Vancouver,” said Tyler Davis, student coordinator for the ADP, trained IPD facilitator, ASWSUV election board member and vice chair with the 49th Legislative District Democrats. Davis became involved civically on- and off-campus after recognizing the necessity of civic engagement and the vast implications of political influence.

Among the group discussions throughout the event, much common ground was found, despite opinions stemming from diverse viewpoints. For example, increased student engagement, more opportunities to become involved and expanding available professional experiences were some of the many popular results of the conversations. As individuals became more involved throughout the event, it was apparent that critical thinking and civility were valuable assets for community building.

Despite diverse individual opinions on political views, interests towards university affairs or idealized versions of the campus’ future, there was undeniable camaraderie at the event. This feeling of camaraderie and unity enabled the voices of students and community members to be heard. As the university continues to grow, individuals who become invested in the discourse and community of WSU Vancouver will become active participants in defining what it means to be a Coug.

The ADP has served as a resource for students to become involved with and have their voices heard regarding important challenges since 2012. The organization hosts events and activities that are open to anyone on campus and within the community. The ADP seeks to promote participation in the democratic process, deliberative dialogue, civil discourse and civic engagement. Additionally, those interested have the opportunity to join the IDP, which also advocates for an increase of civic engagement of WSU Vancouver, the campus community and southwest Washingtonians. The IDP provides moderated public forums addressing current issues while improving the quality of public discussions.

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